It was something of an exalted occasion. The usual exhibition-opening crowd at the RIBA found itself swelled by the presence of Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Nicholas Grimshaw, Michael and Patty Hopkins, and Terry Farrell. Two lords, three knights, one dame. They all lined up for a photo and the smiles were real smiles. Which is quite something when you consider that the shared working experience of the men involved over the years has, to employ considerable understatement, not always been super-smooth. There have been fallings-out, commercial rivalries, stylistic differences. But now they are looking back, summing up. You got the sense of battle-hardened warriors meeting up for one final mission.
It was the opening of the RIBA’s new Architecture Gallery, which meant it was also the opening of the exhibition The Brits Who Built the Modern World. And these were they. If you watched the first episode of the tie-in BBC4 series on Thursday night, you will have been struck, like me, by how very relaxed and open all six were about their shared histories. And you will have been struck especially by the photos of Grimshaw in his Sergeant Pepper phase.
As ever, Hopkins was the most laid-back, Foster the most intense. Farrell and Grimshaw both spoke affectionately of the time they jointly built and lived in the shared apartment tower near Regent’s Park with other like-minded creative types. Rogers recalled the conversations he and Foster shared in America about reinventing architecture – and that Foster could draw like an angel while he ‘could scarcely hold a pencil’. Hopkins said he wouldn’t change anything about his and Patty’s famous Hampstead House. Patty paused, thought a bit, and said she wouldn’t mind if it was a bit bigger. She’s the one who recently oversaw the house’s complete – and near-invisible - renovation and upgrading.
One thing, though: while Rogers, Foster and the Hopkinses all referred to each other by their first names, when Farrell and Grimshaw talked about each other they used their surnames. Maybe all that was in the editing of the programme, who knows? Whatever, the evening in March when these Brits all assemble again for a discussion about their era and their architecture will be a historic occasion.
Inspired by The Brits Who Built the Modern World season, the accompanying book explores the story of British architecture abroad between the years 1750 to the present day. Examining the work of a definitive generation of architects – Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Nicholas Grimshaw, Terry Farrell, Michael Hopkins – and other key players, this book charts the projects and influences that put British architecture back on the world map.
Available to purchase from RIBA Bookshops